Family Planning Leadership: Perspectives from Haiti

[Judith Sanon]Judith Sanon

A conversation with Judith Sanon, the manager of family planning commodities for Haiti’s Directorate of Family Health, on the importance of leadership in post-earthquake Haiti. Ms. Sanon has been working with Management Sciences for Health’s (MSH) U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Leadership, Management and Sustainability Project (LMS) for the past two years.

What does the term “leadership” mean to you?

At the Ministry of Public Health in Haiti, leadership is a strategy in place for us to help others do well and do better. The health sector, especially in Haiti, has many challenges and people have many health needs. We believe that leadership as a strategy can help us with the technical department, that leadership can help [those working in the various departments] do better and adapt to  the country's reality, specifically, program managers at the departmental level in terms of maternal health and reproductive health.

What are the major challenges to implementing leadership strategies?

In the Directorate of Family Health, the major challenge is that there have been a lot of people who have moved into the camps [created after the January 12, 2010 earthquake].  It is a great challenge to provide health services in the camps even if there are organizations such as NGO partners working there. It is true that we have many people who are working and offering services around the camps, but there is more work to be done. There are further discussions to hold with partners to ensure health services.  We must plan how to avoid having epidemics in the camps, how to take control of the problem of rape; we must work to meet all these challenges specific to the camps in the three geographic areas that were most affected by the earthquake.

How many people are living in the camps?

More than 1.5 million . . . to meet their needs is an enormous task; we need a lot of hands, a lot of coordination, and a lot of funds made available for health services.

How are you managing the distribution of family planning commodities to the people living in the camps?

With mobile clinics and with fixed points organized by NGO partners; we have also been doing direct distribution in camps with partners of the Ministry, and with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  In fact, the UNFPA had an idea to hire young people, especially those living in the camps, to resupply family planning commodities for people in camps.

Also we are currently having discussions to enhance our thinking about our partners on the ground. We are trying to see how with this strategy we can ensure the continued availability of condoms in the camps not only to prevent teenage pregnancies but also for HIV cases.There is a role for young people to play here in post-earthquake Haiti because we think they have their share to do to help the vulnerable people.

How has your view of leadership been evolving as you work with MSH’s Leadership, Management and Sustainability Project?

Personally, I work closely with the LMS Project, especially in the supply of family planning commodities to the furthest corners of Haiti, and I think we have very good relations; the team is highly motivated and is attempting to fill gaps in supplying commodities to the field.  There have been almost no interruptions of stock provision in the health institutions throughout the country, the last time we visited several locations we actually confirmed that there have not been any stock outs since 2009, and so the issue of stock outs is now being eliminated.

So you see a change?

Yes, in fact family planning service providers are much more motivated.  When there are no products, there is no service and then people complain. Providing family planning commodities at the local level is working very well. For reproductive health in particular, it is the Directorate of Family Health that is responsible for that area. We are now waiting to see what family planning service providers can do to help us ensure good obstetric care services.  We have [begun] a survey on this as we think there are a lot of gaps to be filled in this area, and many efforts can be put in place under the framework of the family planning service providers.

Can you explain the impact of the LMS leadership development program (LDP ) on the Directorate of Family Health? What has been the contribution of the LDP?

Before the LDP, we had a directorate where each person had his own work to do; after the training, everyone wants to engage each other, and integrate to move forward in one direction.